What if humans weren't the first civilization on Earth?

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/04/19/what-if-humans-werent-the-fi.html


OK, but wouldn’t we still be likely to eventually find the primitive precursors of such a civilization? Humanity may only have 10,000 years of recorded history but we’ve found fossil remains of humans and other large-brained, tool-using hominids going back millions of years. (Granted, those aren’t especially easy to find either.)


Yes, but from 61M years ago?


Technology is more a result of population density than need. A technological civilization competing w/ itself would HAVE to produce worked hard materials, like glass, ceramic, or stone. Before the bronze age (span of 250k yrs ?) high tech was worked flint. Arrow heads are found more commonly than bone, they’re relatively common, I’ve found some, produced by a total world population of less than a half billion. Some prior civilization would have to do as well. There should be evidence.

Virtually all of our technology comes from trying to impress other people, a result of competition for food, mates and living space. For example something that would produce that combination of driving traits couldn’t happen with a siphonophore or cindarian “culture” because they’re cooperative and not competitive. They spawn in mass instead of by cultivating a personal gene line. Maybe something like early arthropods (?) might have motive but they’d need a visualizing capacity too (another word for brains).


One wonders if we will see Octopus evolved civilizations after we have died out. Or Dolphins.


There was an interesting episode of Star Trek Voyager that touched on a possibility like this - they encounter an intelligent species that evolved from dinosaurs and managed to leave earth when they foresaw the conditions coming that killed the rest of the dinosaurs.

In an interesting twist on current times, the dinosaur species, who have no records of their origin refuse to acknowledge the evidence and suppress the facts to maintain the mythology that their species is the center of the universe…


But those are artifacts stemming from a total population that may have been well under 1 million. Even a 19th century style civilization would leave non-decomposing artifacts like ceramics, glass, and nonoxidizing metals. As I understand it, the main reason we have so little from before 10k bc is that most humans then as now lived by seashores that were much lower due to water locked in glaciers and icecaps, and those are now hundreds of feet under water.


then we’d be living in the Gal Force universe, or battle star galactica, or hitchhiker’s guide to the universe, or you know, any of the thousands of other sci fi shows where it turns out that humans are descendants of space refugees.


“Silurian Hypothesis”

It’s great they came up with an official name for one of the things we used to debate in our college dorm room when we were really f#@cking high.

Plus the name comes from Dr. Who (high five!)


Larry Niven’s “The Green Plague” posited an Earth civilization predating aerobic respiration. They choke to death on the new, oxygen atmosphere. Our narrator learns this from someone who’s a billion years old (“most of it in relativistic time-dilation, please! not so old as all that”).


Larry Niven has a Draco Tavern story where an extremely old star traveler recounts its previous visit to Earth. Sadly the intelligent life of that time, and most life in general, was wiped out by a mutant organism that converted the air to deadly poison by releasing oxygen.

@allenk Bah, I shouldn’t have taken that toilet break.


Well, the fossils are from the last several million years, so they’re far more easily found (a couple million years worth of one lineage’s fossils from 100 MYA is another thing entirely - very easily overlooked), and they’re our ancestors, so we’re looking for them and understand the significance when we find them. Some big-brained saurian, not so much. Similarly with remains of stone tools - they’re more likely to have survived that length of time (i.e. they aren’t embedded in rock after that length of time) and we’re more likely to interpret them as tools because of the context we know (old stone tools get pretty ambiguous, both because they’re crude and get beat up).

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The first what, now?


The obvious, and popular, solution to this conundrum involves making an axiom of the fact that non-human civilization clearly isn’t a civilization.

Given the ease with which people can be made to agree that various historically inconvenient human civilizations were not, in fact, civilizations, this approach is quite elementary in to put into practice.


There might be evidentiary traces in the form evocative street names, and accounts of visions of devils when digging in some areas.




A lot of the things our civilization has that would last near-forever are products of us having oil and coal to jump us up, energy-wise. Would an old enough civilization have anything similar to use to get to an industrial status? If they only had plants to burn for energy, it’s unlikely that they could have gotten very far, technologically, before they deforested the planet and possibly killed themselves off via climate change / lack of food.


What if humans weren’t the first civilization on Earth?



“The Great Fetish” is a novel by L Sprague de Camp.It is set on an alien planet inhabited by humans who have forgotten that they are from Earth, and whose religion claimed that they evolved in place. A man goes to many places and peoples on this planet, trying to find someone who will listen. https://everipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Fetish/